Tobacco provisions stripped from bill in HHS Committee to repurpose the Fund for a Healthy Maine

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The Maine Legislature’s Committee on Health and Human Services (HHS) voted to advance two pieces of legislation which would replace the Fund for a Healthy Maine with the Trust for a Healthy Maine and will create a state Office Of Population Health Equity and an obesity advisory council.

The committee voted 8 to 5 to pass an amended version of LD 1523, which creates the Trust for a Healthy Maine to receive and distribute funds the state receives from tobacco companies as part of the Master Settlement Agreement. Funds from the trust must be used for tobacco use prevention and control.

The committee also voted 8 to 5 to pass an amended version of LD 1693, but not before stripping several provisions from the bill. The committee struck language in the bill that was identical to the language of LD 1523 and also removed provisions in the bill that banned the sale of flavored tobacco products and would have doubled the tax on cigarettes.

LD 1693 was also one of five bills selected to be included in a racial impact statement pilot program, part of legislation signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills in March 2021.

During the HHS committee’s March 2 work session, Sarah Goan, a senior researcher at the University of Southern Maine’s Cutler Institute, summarized the findings of the racial impact statement attached to the bill.

Goan, who focused on the anti-tobacco provisions in the bill, said the legislation’s initiatives and strategies are evidence-based and “known to ease disparities based on social determinants of health.”

Cutler added that increasing the availability of tobacco prevention materials so that they are accessible to more students is likely to have an impact on disparity, but couldn’t say how much because there is “too much nuance to predict anything going forward.”

The committee struck the portion of the bill that would have banned the sale of flavored tobacco because similar legislation is currently before the legislature. LD 1550, which bans the sale of flavored tobacco and fines retailers who violate the law, was carried over from the 130th Legislature’s first session and is currently sitting in the legislature’s unfinished business.

If approved by the legislature, the bill’s fiscal note estimates the state would lose more than $15 million in revenue in FY 2021-22 and almost $23 million in FY 2022-23 by banning the sale of flavored tobacco products. With a substantial projected surplus at their disposal, it remains possible that majority Democrats in the legislature move to enact the bill by statutory adjournment, which is slated for April 20. 

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